For December, we begin with Democrat Andrew Johnson, whose rise and fall was as epic as any rock-and-roll star’s. He was born in a log cabin and never received a formal education—he learned math and even literacy from his wife. He was a skilled tailor and, once he ran away from his tailoring apprenticeship, a skilled fugitive, eluding capture for years with a reward on his head. He ascended to the Presidency in spite of all this, but unfortunately squandered most of his time hindering Reconstruction and civil rights progress. He came within one vote of being impeached. It’s generally agreed that he showed foresight in the decision to purchase Alaska, though at the time they called it “Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden.” Oh, and he had an awesome Grizzly Bear Chair.
Martin Van Buren was the first President to be born a US Citizen and, ironically, the only President who didn’t speak English as his first language—he spoke Dutch. His campaign for Presidency has been attributed with originating the term “O.K.” (or “okay”), a reference to his birth village of Old Kinderhook. He was welcomed to the office by the Panic of 1837, which put him in the position of scapegoat and earned him the nickname “Martin Van Ruin.” It seems he did have a flair for interior decorating, however: he selected a blue theme for the White House’s central stateroom, where the President has traditionally welcomed guests. “The Blue Room” has maintained blue décor ever since.
Woodrow Wilson had a wide range of talents, which is especially evident in his undergraduate extracurricular activities. He was an editor for the Princeton school newspaper; he sang in a quartet, as well as the glee club; he acted in plays and joined debate clubs; and he served as president of the Princeton baseball association and secretary of the football association. Talk about well-rounded! As President, he took us through WWI, formed the League of Nations, and received the Nobel Peace Prize.